Tag Archives: Jews

Good Bye – This is my last blog post

4 Jun

It’s over.  After almost five years and 100 (!) posts it’s time to lift my pen off the paper, time to lift my fingers off the keyboard and bring my “Notes from Galilee” blog to an end.  What started out as something experimental has developed into a passion that offered me a chance to report of my experiences from Israel every two or three weeks.

In onion field with my dog Max

Out on a walk in Galilee

This land is so wonderful, complex, challenging, rewarding, infuriating – a fertile ground to tell of stories that border on the sublime and the ridiculous. There’s never a dull moment here.  This led me to write about diverse topics like harvesting almonds in the fields, pressing virgin olive oil, stories of Jews and Arabs getting along and not getting along at all, of Muslims and Christians, stories of a holy land and the not so holy, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and everywhere in between, food and more food, beer, Ramadan, soccer, war and more war, politics, religion and economy, stories of nature, wildlife, and lastly, of my children, of my family’s history in Israel and in America.

Your reader comments were a treat.  It was fascinating to learn that my posts were being read and shared in far away places in Senegal, Zambia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Thailand and dozens of other countries around the world.  Even in the age of internet, people wish to connect, reach out, extend a digital hand and touch someone.

I wish to continue to write, possibly return to what I love doing, writing fiction.  I’m confident my experiences will provide the raw material for the next story.  You’re welcome to explore any one of my three novels (they appear at bottom of this post).

In the meantime, thanks for following me around Galilee for the last few years.

Be well, be good, do good.

שלום

Maurice Labi

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandn

 

Life is like a box of dynamite

26 Mar

Last week a group of Israelis toured the streets and promenades of Istanbul.  It was part of a culinary trip to explore the flavors of the wonderful Turkish cuisine.

Israeli tourists in Istanbul before the terrorists' attack

Israeli tourists in Istanbul before the terrorists’ attack

While they dined at a restaurant, an ISIS (Daesh) suicide-bomber detonated his explosives belt killing three and wounding scores more. The festive outing had turned into a disaster.  Within hours Israel sent its own doctors and transport airplanes to bring everyone home.  This is one more story of Islamist terrorism against Jews.  What’s absurd is that one of the killed, Avi Goldman, was a tour guide in Jerusalem.  He survived the daily attacks of Arabs against Jews in his own city, yet had to travel to Turkey to meet his death.

Forrest Gump had it all wrong.  Life is not like a box of chocolate.

Islamist suicide-bombers in Brussels

Islamist suicide-bombers in Brussels

It used to be that if you kept out of trouble, trouble would not find you.  Islamists terrorists changed all that after 9/11.  We’re sitting ducks.  Anywhere we go, San Bernardino in California, Paris, Istanbul, Tel-Aviv, we can have our heads blown off or be stabbed to death.  There are no Swedes, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Italians pulling anchor from their homelands and going on a killing spree in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.  It’s an Islamist thing.  Even those Muslims who’d lived in Europe for two or three generations produce sleeper-cell terrorists.  It’s assimilation gone wild.  I feel sorry for all the law-abiding peaceful Muslims who just want to get by in life, find a decent job, raise a decent family, build a decent home.  Yet many indecent, violent, hell-bent Islamist fundamentalists are ruining it for their own people and their own religion.  But you can’t talk sense into them.  They’re sick in the head.

Victims of the suicide-bombing in Brussels

Victims of the suicide-bombing in Brussels

What’s most terrifying is that these Islamists terrorists can strike at any moment, anywhere, in capital cities and sleepy villages.  Ten days ago my twin teenage daughters flew to Bergen-Belsen, Germany as part of a worldwide delegation to explore and learn about the Nazi atrocities in the concentration camp (more on the subject on a future post).  They flew from Israel to Frankfurt, and from there to Hanover, and from there to Bergen-Belsen.

Then the ISIS terrorists struck Brussels, Belgium.  Thirty-four innocent people were killed at the airport and subway.  My wife and I panicked.  That same week they were to return to Israel with a connecting flight through…Brussels.  While in Germany the local media had learned of my daughters’ involvement in the Bergen-Belsen project.  They wanted to interview them for TV and radio and take their account of their Germany visit.  The reporters asked their Israeli adult escort for permission to interview.  Their woman escort and former teacher called Jerusalem for instructions.  Jerusalem called back.  “Do not let them talk to anyone!”  Why expose them to would-be attackers, they said.  Toward the end, the reporters and Israeli security reached a compromise.  My daughters spoke of their experiences in Germany and the story could be told only after they’d left the country.

My daughters in Bergen-Belsen this week

My daughters in Bergen-Belsen this week

They traveled to Germany to learn of the horrors committed in the camp more than 70 years ago, only to learn that the horrors continue to haunt us today. Luckily they took a flight back through Munich instead, and arrived safely early this morning.

The families from the Istanbul attack are grieving. Brussels, known for its Belgian chocolate, is now known for dynamite and bombs.

Forrest Gump, your mama was wrong.  We know exactly what we’re going to get.

——————————————————————————————————————

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandn

 

 

 

 

 

Kissed by a Fascist Dictator

16 Jan

The Arabs put the final touches of whitewash paint on the walls of their beloved city, Benghazi. Trash was removed from the streets.  Boardwalk cafes and shops glimmered under the Mediterranean sun of this North African nation of Libya.  Flags blew in the breeze.

Benito Mussolini in Benghazi

Benito Mussolini in Benghazi

Schools let out their children and had them stand in a single file from the airport to the town center.

Shopkeepers wiped clean their storefront windows in anticipation.  The year is 1937, and it’s not every day that IL DUCE (The Leader)  comes from Italy to witness his Fascist empire.  Upon landing, Benito Mussolini was escorted with fanfare through the streets of Benghazi.  My grandfather, Joseph Duani, much like other Jews in Benghazi, welcomed the dictator.  Wasn’t Italy and its Roman past the cradle of civilization?  Wasn’t Italy the nation that fostered music, art and commerce with flair? Joseph looked up to the Italians; they represented all that was noble and enlightened, or so he believed then.

My mother (with my father) in London, 1954

My mother (with my father) in London, 1954 (Click on Photo for a larger view)

He and his fellow business friends took pride in learning Italian, in sending their children years later to Italian-run schools in Benghazi.  Joseph wore the latest Italian suits and neckties and ordered Italian-made shoes using his Italian-made Olivetti typewriter.  Joseph Duani in his youth, the ultimate bad boy, tooled around town with his Italian-made 1935 Benelli motorcycle.  He had learned to correspond with Italian merchants in Napoli and Rome, to import fabrics and shoes for his Benghazi shop near the seaport.  Learning of Mussolini’s state visit, he put on his best suit, held his firstborn daughter Yvonne (my mother) in his arms, and rushed to the growing-by-the-minute procession to greet The Leader.

Mussolini entered Benghazi in a motorcade to the cheers of the crowds.  Arabs rode their camels. Young men displayed their riding

Benelli Italian-made motorcycle my grandfather owned

Benelli Italian-made motorcycle my grandfather owned

skills on horseback.  And like any politician, Mussolini mixed with the crowd, nodded his approval, waved, then stopped in front of my grandfather.  My mother, two months old, squirmed in her father’s arms.

Benito Mussolini stood on his toes–he was short and my grandfather was tall–and kissed my mother on the cheek.  The kiss is something my grandfather would recall years later.  It did not do him or his Jewish friends any favors.  In time the Fascists rolled into town and burned all their shops to the ground.  Collaborating with the Nazis, they sent 2500 Jews into labor camps in the Libyan desert, 600 died.  Years later Mussolini met his violent end, lynched by an angry Italian mob at the end of WWII.

Benito Mussolini's "sweetheart" today, near 80

My mother Yvonne Labi, today, near 80

As a child growing up, my father and mother spoke Italian to keep things from me.  I owe Mussolini

nothing other than introducing my family to all-things-beautiful that in later years would be termed La Dolce Vita: a sense of style, and a passion for living.  My mother celebrates her birthday this week, almost 80.  What the heck, Mom, I’ll kiss you on the cheek.  The other cheek.

Happy Birthday!

Below is a rare film footage of Benito Mussolini’s visit to Libya in 1937.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in a Bubble

21 Mar

This week, Israel’s general elections were Dead on Arrival.  The autopsy wasn’t pretty; a gunshot wound to the head.  To the left, liberal head.  What started out as hope to replace the Netanyahu government, collapsed onto itself like a circus tent after all the animals had run out.

This is a time to admit that after almost four years since my return to Israel, I live in a bubble. What’s not to like about a bubble?  So long as it continues to inflate, so long as the world beyond it looks soapy, clean; so long as the bubble rises in the mild wind, leaving all else behind – I can continue to live in a make-believe world.

Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you're goona get

Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re goona get

The villages and the kibbutzim  around my home supported the opposition overwhelmingly.  The numbers were stacked in my favor, or so I thought.  The neighbors I talk to, the friends I associate with – we all sing from the same music sheet.  We wanted to replace the right-wing government.  I threw my support behind Itzhak Hertzog, leader of the Zionist Camp party. His pedigree is without question: His grandfather was a respected rabbi, his father was the president of Israel.  Hertzog had no skeletons in the closet.  During the campaign he spoke for me: negotiate with the Arabs, advocate a two-state solution, one Jewish, one Arab, in an attempt to end the conflict.  He promoted social programs and an accountable government.  A speech therapist coached him on how to drop his squeaky voice.  Political strategists helped him how to show more presence in front of the cameras.

The bubble continued to inflate.

My wife Pnina showing our daughter Romy the voting booth and the democratic process on election day

Until Netanyahu put a needle to it.  All came crashing the day after the elections when results were in.  Overnight, Netanyahu’s numbers improved markedly and Hertzog’s sank.

What went wrong?

In two words: 1. Demographics  2.  Hubris

In the U.S., for example, minorities will become the majority in 2040.  In just 25 years from now, the white man’s supremacy will be a thing of the past.  Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and other mixed races will outnumber whites.  It’s unlikely the Republicans in the U.S. will seize the White House unless they will learn how to include Jorge, Jun, and Jerome in their political platform.

In Israel’s demographics, the left will not win unless it learns to include, or at least understand the mindset of the Sephardi Jews (originally from Arab-speaking countries), the disenfranchised blue-collar sector far away from Tel Aviv’s glitz, the Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and the orthodox.  It’s a tall order.  And now, days after the defeat, it’s not likely the left will win anytime soon.  Unless things get a lot worse and the voting public will take a gamble on the alternative.  Unless the left will drop its arrogance (mine included).  At the ballot box, a minimum-wage factory worker from a hole-in-the-wall town is equal to a university dean in his/her ivory tower.  For the left to think that they know better is naive. Its leaders need to roll up their sleeves, reach out to these marginalized groups, reinvent themselves.

The left has to change its language.

My sketch of Netanyahu

My sketch of Netanyahu

It’s not to say Netanyahu has done anything to help these groups.  He hasn’t.  He’s just a better demagogue, borrowing tactics from Ronald Reagan.  Netanyahu is a great speaker; he doesn’t use dollar words like Hertzog when nickel words will do.  In Israel, he gets to the largest common denominator, scares the shit out of people regarding Iran and Isis, then retires to his Prime Minister home and sips French wine.  A true king.

See you in four years, Hertzog.  In the meantime, go to the gym, lift weights, roughen your voice, roughen your beard, charm the ladies, and kick ass.

Israelis like to be kicked around.  Even if they don’t know it.

 

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

Your Land is my Land

14 Feb

Imagine yourself waking up one morning and finding yourself in a different country.  You don’t remember packing, you don’t recall crossing a border, and yet, outside, there’s a “foreign” flag rippling in the wind.  You recognize the flag, but it’s not your own.

Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman

This so-called dream might become a reality for thousands of Israeli-Arabs after the Israeli upcoming general elections only a month away.  I’m speaking of Avigdor Liberman’s initiative, Israel’s foreign minister until not long ago, and his political party “Israel, Our Home.”  His plan is simple and straightforward: Transfer Israeli-Arabs to a future Palestine.  This would solve the Arab problem, create a more homogeneous Jewish state.  He’s speaking of residents who live exclusively in Arab villages, in Israel, along the “stitch-line” of the Israel/West Bank border and some villages further north, on the road leading to Galilee, a place I call home.

Liberman, a staunch right-wing politician, was born in Moldova, one of the Soviet Union’s former republics.  At age 20 he immigrated to Israel.  In time, he joined Netanyahu and moved up the ranks.  Russian Jews, who are generally right-wing and against making concessions to Arabs, further helped Liberman climb the political ladder.

Liberman's Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Liberman’s Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Why does Liberman bring up this land-swap idea now?

His party has been recently rocked by scandal.  Officials in his party are under investigation, accused of siphoning money, controlling and awarding contracts, receiving bribes.  Although he’s not personally accused, he’s suffered a black eye.  The fallout is evident.  Would-be voters and supporters are abandoning ship. According to latest polls, his current 14 seats in Israel’s parliament, will be reduced to 6 on election day.

So, in pure Putin-fashion, Liberman is getting on his horse and is trotting all over the Israeli map to sell his idea. His campaign to transfer Arabs appears in newspapers and highway billboards. There’s one such billboard at the entrance to my home village in Kfar Tavor.  It reads:

Um El Fahem to Palestine

Ariel to Israel

Bottom Line: Liberman -“Israel, Our Home.”

The message speaks to the conservative base.  At first glance, the message is appealing, even intoxicating.  What’s not to like?  Throw them out.  All of them.  The city Um El Fahem is a buzz-word for Arab trouble-makers, and for good reason.  In the 2000 Arab Intifada, Arab residents blocked Wadi Ara, the highway that goes though their city, essentially cutting off Israel in two.  The burning tires and stone-throwing are long gone, but their bad-ass image remains to this day.  So, it’s no wonder, Liberman wants to get rid of all 50,000 Arabs in the city, send them to Palestine, where they belong.

Jewish city Ariel

Jewish city Ariel

But do they belong in Palestine?

Under the law, they’re Israeli citizens.  Their forefathers had lived on this land long before Israel was established.  In Liberman’s view, Um El Fahem is nothing more than a bargaining chip, to be exchanged for Ariel.

Is that a fair or even exchange?

Ariel is a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, also known as biblical Judea and Samaria.  Any way you call Ariel, it did not exist, at least not in its present form until 1978.  Ariel, now numbering 20,000 Jews, sits in occupied territory.  The town offers enviable municipal services, parks, schools, and even a university.

Arab city Um El Fahem

Arab city Um El Fahem

Liberman wants to eat the blintzes and have them too; he wants both to transfer the Arabs from Israel and keep Jews in occupied territory.  The rules of his games are odd.  He doesn’t ask the Arabs if they want to play; they’re moved off the board game.  He’s decided Jewish Ariel will be included in a Greater Israel.  What if Ariel were to be a Jewish outpost inside Palestine?  Would it not be sinilar to a West Berlin behind Israel’s own wall?  Sensing that his block of seats in parliament will further strengthen a conservative government, he’d already let be known that he will no longer seek the foreign minister position.  Instead, he wants to be minister of defense.

If that were to happen, could the land-swap proposal go beyond elections rhetoric, and really happen?  Smelling something’s in the air, the four or five Israeli-Arab parties, who were always splintered and stepping over each other’s toes, decided to put their differences aside.  They’re going into the elections as one block.  Analysts predict their united party might be the 3rd largest in parliament.  No Jewish party, Left or Right, would do business with them, but that’s beside the point.

Map of Israel showing Ariel and Um El Fahem, the proposed land-swap by Liberman's party

CLICK TO ENLARGE MAP

I don’t like Wadi Ara.  The road leading to the coast goes through the Wadi.  The road is narrow, the traffic lights are slow, the Arab truck drivers zigzag all over the place; it’s a hazard.  But I don’t see myself getting off the road and throwing the first Arab I see over the border.  They, too, when asked, don’t want to leave.  More than 85% want to stay in Israel.  Can you blame them?  They do well financially.  Originally, they used to peddle coal (Fahem, in Arabic) from the forests on the hilltops.  Today, they haul heavy-duty loads on semi-trailers, they work in road construction, manufacturing, auto industry.  They’re not stupid.  They see the turmoil in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria.  They’re Israeli and they want to remain Israeli.

They don’t like us, and I don’t love them much, either.  Tough.

Liberman is playing with fire.  The game can be played two-ways. In Galilee, Arabs are the majority.  As a Jew, I’m a minority in Galilee.  Who’s to stop Arabs in Galilee from wanting to establish their own “nation” here.  As is it, the Jewish-Israeli authorities, police, social workers, and such hardly set foot in Arab villages.  Arabs run their own show.  Worse yet, Arabs in mixed cities (Jews and Arabs) such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acco, Lod, Ramla, Nazareth – they may claim their own “autonomy.”  Before long, Israel will turn into Swiss cantons.  Only instead of dipping their bread into fondue, Jews and Arabs should first smell the hummus.

This is a centuries-old conflict.  It cannot be solved unilaterally.  Liberman’s idea is sexy and populist.  But it’s a non-starter, a dead-end, a dangerous political game.  No one’s going anywhere. Jews and Arabs are here for the long haul.

Deal with it, Liberman.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

 

 

A Bus with a View

14 Dec

I’ve recently started taking classes at Haifa University.  In the beginning I endured the 80 mile (120 km) roundtrip drive, twice a week, back and forth, back and forth.  I even put up with the endless search for parking.  But after the first month, it got old; it also made my car old.  And at $7.00 per gallon, it made my pocket poor.

Golani Junction

Golani Junction

So I explored public transportation, instead.  Kfar Tavor, my hometown in Galilee, is the Capital of No Where.  It’s close to only one thing — itself.  Which means you have to get creative to get around.  At first, I tried the obvious–Egged Bus Lines.

Egged brings back childhood memories to all Israelis.  The buses have been crisscrossing Israel for decades.  They’re part of the culture, like the American Greyhound buses, only better.

The trip to Haifa involved taking 3 buses, each way.  I tried it for a week.  I gave up.  Getting off the buses, my body continued to twitch and jerk.  In time, I got to know every station, every turn, every bump in the road, even recognized the drivers behind their Ray-Ban sun-glasses.

So I gave up on the Jews and joined the Arabs.

Not entirely.

On board an Arab bus

On board an Arab bus

It turns out more than half the student body at Haifa university is Arab.  The University draws Arab students from all over Galilee, and beyond.  On campus I hear more Arabic than I do Hebrew; my university desk mates answer to Mohamed and Aziza more often than they do to Moshe and Dina; I see more women’s faces covered and less legs uncovered.

Talk about making an adjustment.

The privately owned Arab bus line makes its rounds through Arab villages only.  I wait for it at Golani Junction, a ten minute ride from my house.

The bus arrives.

I climb up the steps and hand the driver my bus pass.  “Good morning,” I greet him in Hebrew. He returns the greeting in Hebrew.  It’s a sign of co-existence, but we don’t admit to it.  The bus lurches forward.  I walk down the aisle to find a good seat in the back.  I’m the only Jewish passenger on board.  Men and women students, all Arab, are either dozing off, or they work their cell phones.

Arab WOmen in Tur'an Village waiting for a store to open

Arab WOmen in Tur’an Village waiting for a store to open

The first stop is in the village of Tur’an.  I’ve driven past it many times, but never went in.  I have no business going there.  But that day, the bus leads me deep inside the Arab village.  There’s a rock quarry at the rear of the village.  It looks like someone had punched a giant hole in the hillside, scarring it forever. Next, the bus goes past an automobile junkyard.  Dozens of trucks of every type, flatbed, concrete mixers, are parked in open spaces, waiting for an order to haul dirt, rocks.  The homes are mostly two to three stories high; they house the extended families of the Arabs.  The homes are covered in marble tile, overly ornate.  No dogs anywhere.  Rows of olive trees sprout between houses.  Grocery stores, computer repair shops– the signs are mostly in Arabic.

The bus stops.  More students board.  It gets back on the road to another village. On the radio, Arabic music is playing.  The strumming of the oud strings fill the bus.  I get into the groove.  I would have preferred songs by Arik Einstein, Eric Clapton, or The Doors, but it is what it is.  I lean my head on the glass and look onto the open highway.  The one hour and fifteen minute ride ends at the top of Mount Carmel.

Tur'an Village Rock Quarry

Tur’an Village Rock Quarry

A bus for Arabs, a bus for Jews.  A village for Jews, a village for Arabs.  We travel in parallel universes.

It’s the final stop. We all get off; students scatter in all directions of the campus.  I go through a security check at the main entrance, from there I head to class.  I take a seat next to an Arab student.  “Good morning,” I say, in English.  “Good morning,” he replies, in English.

If life were only this simple in the Holy Land.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

The (young) Old Man and the Sea

8 Nov

Israel.  1978.  Winter.  Tel Aviv municipal airport.  I’m sitting inside a 4-seater Cessna airplane on a wet runway.  The propeller spins.  My boss, Shimon Wilner, owner of Mediterranean Tours, is next to me.  In the front, the “business man” takes the passenger seat.  The pilot puts away the maps and eases the plane for a take off.

Cessna airplane

Cessna airplane

Minutes later I’m in the clouds.  We’re off to the Island of Rhodes, Greece.  The “business man” is from Kibbutz Ga’ash near Tel Aviv.  The kibbutz manufacturers outdoor lighting fixtures.  He wants to sell them to the beach hotels on the island.  Shimon, the money man, arranged for the airplane, the pilot, and for me.  My role?  To translate the three mens’ Hebrew into English, in the hope the Greek men in Rhodes will understand.

A storm hits.  Lighting.  Thunder.  Water hits the windows.  Visibility: Zero.  The plane sinks and rises in air pockets, as does my stomach.  My toes are frozen.  We all want to pee.  The pilot unzips his pants and pisses into a plastic tube.  He then passes it to the back like an Indian peace pipe.  My boss refuses.  I refuse.

Synangogue in Rhodes, Greece

synagogue in Rhodes, Greece

What is normally a 70 minute flight for a jet plane takes 4 hours on this noisy bumblebee.  Finally, we see land in the distance.  The pilot lowers the Cessna, approaches the runway.  A sudden gust of wind smacks the wing and tilts it sideways.  My face hits the glass.  Shimon, a 250 pound mass-of-a-man, leans into me.  The engine screams.  So do we.  The pilot barely is able to right the plane and we come in for a hard landing.  The doors fly open.  We take in the air.  We exhale steam.  We survived.

To celebrate our good fortune we stand on the wings of the Cessna and piss on the runway in a beautiful arc.

Police.  Sirens.

The Greek border patrol surrounds us with Jeeps.  They yell in Greek, visibly disturbed on how we, primitive Israelis, had desecrated their land with our urine.  We jump off the wings and apologize.  Ten times.

We’re escorted to the terminal, our passports are stamped with a loud thud and we’re shown to the door.  Outside, it rains.  In the hotel lobby later that night I help the “businessman” with his outdoor lights presentation.

Two days later we’re on the runway again.  It’s sunny.  The pilot starts the engine.  The propeller spins.  Shimon hears something suspicious.  “Stop,” he tells the pilot.  The pilot steps out, then waves to us to do the same.  It turns out, the blade of the propeller had hit the purple emergency light on the runway.  The propeller is bent like a banana.  The pilot says: “We’re lucky as hell.  Had we taken off, we would have crashed into the ground.”

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Young Jews in Rhodes before World War II

Back to the terminal we go…

Those were the heydays of the seventies.  In the summer I escorted a number of groups to tour the Greek island; I tanned in the sun, frolicked in the clear blue water, feasted my stomach on Moussaka and Feta cheese, and feasted my eyes on topless Swedish girls.

Roll tape, please.  To October, 2014.

I’m on board EL-AL Airlines to Rhodes with my wife Pnina for a 4 day vacation. Once we settle at our hotel, we venture to the Old City, the Medieval City of Rhodes, the city walls dating back to the Crusaders.  This time, I’m in search of history.  Down the cobbled-stone alleys we walk until we reach the one remaining synagogue on the island.  It’s now a museum.  The Jews had come to Rhodes by way of Spain, then to North Africa, then Italy.  They lived on the island for generations, spoke Ladino, a Judaeo-Spanish language.  Whenever they sensed trouble was brewing, they reverted from Greek to Ladino, “Lashon de tu padre” – the language of your father.  They dealt in commerce; many of them worked at the fish market.

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Surviving Rhodes Jews in Seattle, Washington

Then the Germans came.  During World War II they rounded up almost 1500 Jews and sent them to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the same camp my father was sent to.  Few survived.  After the war, their property was confiscated.  Inside the synagogue we meet one of the survivor’s children.  “Do you live here?” I ask.  “No,” he says.  “My family immigrated to the Belgian Congo.  Years later we moved to South Africa.”

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

An old(er) me in Rhodes, Greece

Other survivors made to America.  Five years ago, I travelled to Seattle, Washington.  In the famous Pike Market I came across Jewish fish mongers.  The “Lost Greeks” stand over the beds of ice and arrange the crabs, the shrimp, the fish.

They’re a long way from Rhodes.

I leave the synagogue, remembering my days as a young man in Rhodes.  My wife and I go near the water and see the fishing boats.

The waves come and go, come and go.

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Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

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